Memory from 1978 Clovis tragedy endures

By Don McAlavy: CNJ Columnist

A lady friend of mine in Clovis has asked me to re-print the 1978 tragedy column in Clovis concerning the botulism attack to alert those who haven’t heard of it.

One of the most dreaded food-borne poisons known to man struck Curry County on Friday night, April 4, 1978. A group of people were at a banquet in the old Colonial Park Country Club that night. Some 30 members of that group became slightly ill to very ill. It was the dreaded botulism that killed two people in that group. One of them was John Garrett Jr., a noted farmer at Claud.

Dr. Jonathan Mann, state health officer, said the area is extremely fortunate that help for the victims were able to mobilize to assist victims in this tragic case. Cannon AFB Hospital had air-evacuation aircraft to fly patients to Albuquerque when first alerted.

All day Saturday and Sunday, volunteers from all walks of life called the hundreds of people that were known to have eaten at the club in the past week.

As patients were hospitalized in Clovis, Albuquerque, Lubbock, Amarillo, El Paso and Santa Fe, Dr. Mann arranged for anti-toxin to be flown in from all over the country.

The search for the cause of the botulism was centered around the salad bar at the country club. Dave Tanner, a government environmentalist in Clovis, said that samples of every food product in the club were sent to the Food and Drug Administration laboratory in Dallas. Late Monday, Jon Thompson told a press conference that potato salad and a commercially prepared ingredient were responsible for the illness.

Later it was announced that a “three-bean salad” could have been the cause, but a thorough search of the local landfill did not find any of the three-bean salad cans there.

Hospitalized at the following locations were:

l Two Albuquerque hospitals: Bill Kinyon, Dr. Jacob Moberly, Vernon Dobbs, Mrs. Anita Dobbs, Mrs.Carolyn Wilson, Warner Wilson (his condition serious) as was Howard Cowper, and Sandra Tabor. Melvy E. Linton (condition serious as were Mario Trujillo, Janita Crouch, Maxine Funkhouser, Delores Eichenberger, Bobby Wayne Crouch, and Sandra Matheny.)

l Lubbock hospital: John Garrett Jr. Wilburn Dan Prince, Billy Dictson, Dr. L.W. Byous, Darrell Johnson, Marine Claiborne (these six were in serious conditions), Pam Sieler condition satisfactory.

l High Plains Baptist Hospital in Amarillo: Mrs. Howard Martin, critical, Mrs. Kathryn Bomar, critical, and Jack Vaughn, fair.

l William Beaumont Army Hospital, El Paso: J.L. Bupp, condition stable. St. Vincent’s Hospital

l Santa Fe: Justin Moore, condition stable.


Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:

dmcalavy@telescopelab.com